Case Study 85: Pair of Kings, Episode 33–“Pair of Clubs”

Original Airdate: October 24, 2011 on Disney XD
When I was a kid I was a regular viewer of the Disney Channel, despite knowing that the material was often sentimental and nauseatingly family friendly. You were never going to find Ren & Stimpy on the Disney Channel. Sometime around the turn of the century, I stopped paying attention to what was happening on the network altogether, so I missed out on a parade of smash hit original live action programming that no doubt shaped the tender brains of many a millennial. Hilary Duff, Raven-Symoné, the Sprouse brothers, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez all managed to crawl out of the primordial slime that was entertaining untold numbers of tweens after school and on the weekends and into the light of quasi-respectability in the world of adult celebrity. But is anything that’s happened in the world of live-action Disney original series worth paying attention to? I have it on good authority that it is not. Nevertheless, here is a review of Pair of Kings.

Strengths

  • One slightly charming joke. Okay, it’s not much, but here it goes. At one point in the story, we’re meant to understand that a week has passed, and we’re shown this information with the traditional image of a calendar’s pages turning. King Boomer (Doc Shaw) turns to King Brady (Mitchel Musso, Hannah Montana) and tells him “Close the drapes; the wind is blowing the pages off the calendar.” Yep, that’s the highlight. A tiny soupcon of postmodern self-awareness. By the way, does anyone reading this actually have a page-a-day paper calendar that shows nothing but the date?

Weaknesses

  • Unfunny. Always a bad way to start things off with a comedy. In case that gem with the calendar didn’t do it for you, here’s a couple other random gags. Boomer wants to open a nightclub in a disused library, which Brady disparages as entailing “storytime at club bookmobile.” Boomer tries to get customers to come to the club by offering visitors an opportunity to kiss him. Villainous cousin Lanny (Ryan Ochoa) receives commands from his talking pet fish Yamakoshi (Vincent Pastore, The Sopranos), causing him to marvel, “How can something that swims in its own toilet be so smart?” How, indeed.
  • What the fuck is even happening here? Just in case you’re as agitated and disoriented as I was when I finished watching Pair, let’s take a quick step back. Pair of Kings is about two brothers who look nothing alike and are also somehow the joint kings of the Pacific island of Kinkow. How can a place have two kings at once? Never mind, who cares. But don’t worry about remembering that bewildering premise, because being island kings has sweet fuck all to do with the story at hand, which is about nightclubs. Why are these teenagers running nightclubs when they’re not old enough to drink? Is it because they want to find people to fuck? No, don’t be stupid, this is Disney, no one fucks anything. So if there’s no drinking, no fucking and no recreational drug use, what’s the point of a nightclub? If you guessed Mitchel Musso singing, you’re in luck. Anyway, evil talking fish exist in this world and for some reason want to overthrow the monarchy. Yamakoshi convinces Lanny to try and trick the kings into…wait for it…raising the dead. Eventually zombies appear. Brady and Boomer come together to defeat them. I wonder if I’ve entered some kind of fugue state. Did I mention that there’s a little person with white guy dreads named Hibachi? (Martin Klebba, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)
  • Cheap-looking. When I think remote Pacific island, I definitely think “soundstage.” When I think about the props in this show, I think “Dollar General.” When I think about the director (Adam Weissman, Liv and Maddie), I wonder if IBM has developed some kind of primitive AI for directing television aimed at America’s slack-jawed preteens. At no point does anyone involved in this show make an intriguing choice in terms of visual presentation and I’ve seen work in high school auditoriums with better production values.
  • Wanting it both ways. Look, I get it if you want to have some comedy violence, especially if the whole plot centers around those awful boys getting torn apart by the ravenous living dead. I also understand that they’re the protagonists and that it’s hard to come back from having your lead get disemboweled. At least tear someone apart. But there’s not even a glimpse of blood, even when Hibachi is turned into a zombie. Apparently it’s a painless transition. If you’re determined to be squeaky clean with this bullshit, maybe don’t raise the dead, especially if you’re raising them to kill people and then they don’t actually kill people. I realize some PTA member out there would be pissed off if there were bloody eviscerations being performed for the benefit of fifth graders, but walk the fucking walk.

Final Judgment: 1/10. By all rights, this should be a total zero, but there’s something hypnotic about the depths of the bizarre mediocrity on display here. It’s confusing, it’s bewildering, but it’s not boring. Family Ties is boring.

NEXT TIME: Let’s never speak of the Disney Channel again, and instead focus on The Six Million Dollar Man.

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Case Study 85: Pair of Kings, Episode 33–“Pair of Clubs”

Case Study 55: TaleSpin, Episode 46–“Flight School Confidential”

Original Airdate: January 10th, 1991 on first-run syndication

Hey, a crappy kids’ cartoon that I remember from my actual childhood! The concept of Baloo (Ed Gilbert) from The Jungle Book delivering airmail was introduced on Disney’s first syndicated cartoon, DuckTales. DuckTales was enough of a hit for Disney that it launched a whole stable of early 90s syndicated animated programming for the studio. In addition to TaleSpin, my fellow snake people will probably remember Darkwing Duck and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. DuckTales also triggered a boom in innovative afternoon cartoons, demonstrating to studios like Warners Brothers and Fox that there was money to be made in developing high-quality animated fare like The Animaniacs or Batman: The Animated Series. It also led to a lot of garbage. TaleSpin isn’t nearly that bad, but let’s just say revisiting it tarnished a few childhood memories.

Strengths

  • A strong, relatable premise. The hook of this episode’s plot is simple: Baloo’s 12 year old navigator and apprentice Kit (R.J. Williams, Wake, Rattle and Roll) feels like he’s ready to fly a plane after extensive experience riding shotgun, but everyone thinks he’s way too young. Who hasn’t been in a position where they’ve been told they’re not old enough to do something they feel confident they can handle? Ultimately, this episode is about the relationship between Kit and Baloo, but as you’ll see, we get distracted by a whole different pile of much less compelling bullshit. If they had focused on that core relationship—on Kit trying to convince Baloo, on Baloo addressing his fears over Kit’s independence, on Kit trying to win Baloo’s trust in spite of his naturally unhinged inclinations—it could have been a great story.

Weaknesses

  • Jingoistic bullshit. Hey, you know what this kids’ show about a sloth bear flying a cargo plane needs? Cold War geopolitics! Much of this episode takes place in Thembria, which is populated by a bunch of authoritarian warthogs with cheesy Russian accents. Thembria is characterized by incompetent militarism, tyrannical rulers and austere radish-centric cuisine. Was any of this necessary? It was 1991. The Wall came down, guys. You won. Maybe there was a fear that this state of affairs was tenuous and we still needed to indoctrinate our children with unthinking contempt for commies. I don’t know. As it stands, it makes a godawful mess out of the plot. We go from Kit chafing under Baloo’s authority to Kit chafing under the authority of a bunch of Thembrians we’ll never see again to him getting rescued by Baloo. So is he going to teach Kit to fly, then? No. “You’ll make a great pilot someday,” he says. Kit is mollified. So the moral here is do what Baloo says or you’ll fly your plane into a mountain and die a fiery death in a foreign country. GREAT STORY BRO
  • Kit. I wanted to relate to Kit so badly. But there’s a difference between being prevented from doing something you know how to do based on arbitrary ageism and being cocky and stupid. Every time the kid tries to fly a plane it ends in a disaster. In the opening scenes, he crashes Baloo’s plane into some rocks. He steals a plane from the Thembrians under the cover of darkness, never manages to close the landing gear and crashes it into a wall. In the grand finale he takes control of a plane yet again and nearly runs into a goddamned mountain. And I get that he’s rebelling against the authority of the adults and/or the Soviet government, but it would have made for a better story if he tried to work with that authority instead of against it, since he’s clearly not equipped to do the latter with any kind of competence or affability.

Final Judgment: 4/10. Mostly inoffensive and not actively stupid, TaleSpin clears a lot of the low bars set by the children’s programming previously discussed here, but it hardly rises to the level of anything I’d actually recommend. By the way, I never thought I’d compliment Angelina Ballerina, but at least their Russia stand-in isn’t straight out of a fucking propaganda poster.

NEXT TIME: I cover the British political sitcom The New Statesman!

Case Study 55: TaleSpin, Episode 46–“Flight School Confidential”

Case Study 48: Mickey Mouse, Episode 36–“A Flower For Minnie”

Original Airdate: May 29th, 2015 on Disney Channel

Periodically, you’ll see reports claiming that Kids These Days recognize Mario, Joe Camel, or Pikachu more frequently than they recognize Mickey Mouse. You can blame the rise of video games or a boom in tobacco advertising in the 1980s, but Mickey’s declining popularity over time is chained to Janet’s Law: you’re only as good as what you’ve done for us lately. Despite the fact that his face is plastered over 40 square miles of prime Florida swampland, Mickey hasn’t been holding down any television or film franchises of any notoriety. At best, today’s kids are familiar with him as a supporting player in the Kingdom Hearts games. Eventually, somebody at Disney must have caught on to this, because now we have a series of animated shorts starring America’s favorite everymouse darkening our door on a semi-regular basis.

Strengths

  • Animation & humor style that blends old and new. It’s easy for Mickey to tip its hat to retro styles, seeing as how the little rat’s been around for almost 100 fucking years. Regardless, the Mickey on offer here looks a lot more like Steamboat Willie than he did in my childhood. I understand the logic here—short-form cartoons originated as preludes to feature films and have often been an uncomfortable fit on a TV schedule. It’s why so many of the shows I review here find themselves desperately grappling to fill 22 minutes and it’s why the Huckleberry Hounds and Schnookums and Meats of the world divide their time between three distinct cartoons. But Mickey is very much a product of the 21st century. There are plenty of elegant modern touches to the animation—consider the Mickey’s-eye view of syrup drizzling over his breakfast pancakes—but the humor has also been updated for the jaded eye of post-millennial youth. There’s plenty of violence of the broken teeth and exes for eyes variety, and there’s even a sprinkling of gross-out humor—we get treated to a dog man’s protruding nipple, and a pig man’s hairy, misshapen ass is exposed, complete with a flatulent sound effect. Ain’t no way that shit was gonna fly in Fantasia. All this amounts to a cartoon just as much influenced by Ren & Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants as it is by Silly Symphonies.
  • Rapid-fire. The other upside to having four minutes to work with instead of 22 is that the end result feels much more content-rich. The plot here is simple: Mickey (Chris Diamantopoulos, The Three Stooges) is trying to find the perfect flower for Minnie (Russi Taylor, The Simpsons.) In the course of trying to find that flower, he has eight separate misadventures in just under two minutes. Huckleberry had seven minutes and didn’t even get half as much content crammed in there. So the creators of Mickey are really trying here, and they’ve certainly got the spectacle down—there’s even a catchy song and a denouement featuring a full-scale parade and marching band. And yet…

Weaknesses

  • Not very funny. All that incident doesn’t get you very far when the end result is barely worth cracking a smile. Most of the jokes here consist of Mickey getting his ass kicked in various ways, and while that’s definitely a staple of cartoons going back decades, it’s not intrinsically funny in and of itself, or at least I never thought so. Haw haw haw! He’s been grievously injured! Now he has to go to the hospital! Or maybe he’ll die! Yeah, never did anything for me. And it’s one thing when you disguise full-body third-degree burns by making Daffy Duck all sooty, but as mentioned, today’s fast-paced climate demands that Mickey look approximately 60% more damaged. There is one funny moment, though. One of the flowers Mickey attempts to pick turns out to be from the bouquet on someone’s coffin. Mickey address the mourners thusly: “Uh…he was a good…man?” Diamantopoulos’ reading is gold, even if it’s a little macabre for first-graders.

Motivation: Mickey just wants to show his love for Minnie with a daisy. “She’s the flower blooming in my heart,” he sings. What a man!

Final Judgment: 6/10. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that there’s oceans of shitty to mediocre children’s television out there, so in that respect Mickey’s ahead of the pack. But thanks to We Bare Bears, I believe we can do better.

NEXT TIME: I finally come for HBO. What’s that? Am I reviewing one of HBO’s many popular shows from this century? Nope—The Larry Sanders Show! Hey now.

Case Study 48: Mickey Mouse, Episode 36–“A Flower For Minnie”